Slacker 2011: PJ Raval Does It Guerilla Style


Slacker 2011

In celebration of Slacker's 20th anniversary, local filmmakers are re-creating scenes from the Richard Linklater movie for Slacker 2011, a fundraising project benefitting the Texas Filmmakers Production Fund (TFPF). As we await the August 31 premiere, we're chatting with some of the filmmakers participating in one or more of the short films that will comprise the project -- check out our interviews so far.

Today's interview is with Austin cinematographer and filmmaker PJ Raval. He's directed several short films as well as the feature documentary Trinidad, about the "sex-change capital of the world." His cinematography credits include local movies such as Room and Gretchen, as well as the Academy-Award nominated documentary Trouble the Water and Kyle Henry's Fourplay shorts.

Slackerwood: Which scene from the film did you re-shoot?

PJ Raval: The scene I directed is lovingly referred to as "Rantings" or Scene 22, which originally featured a young woman doing a walk of shame who passes a senior man on the street who is recording thoughts about getting older into a tape recorder. He then gets interrupted by a man driving past in a car w/ loudspeakers attached to the roof broadcasting a rant about a "free weapons giveaway program." Needless to say that was the original and I interpreted and updated into the Austin I see today.

What made you interested in re-creating this particular scene?

I love this segment of the film in particular because it features three very different types of people crossing paths and in my personal experience with Austin it's been all about diversity and interaction between different communities. I think when people think of Austin they usually think of the white, heterosexual, young hipster boy and I wanted to show a different side of Austin and present different characters -- older women, Asian, even queer.

I also knew I wanted to cast Paul Soileau in the segment because he's one of my closest friends and creative collaborators and very much part of my experience here in Austin. So the thought of him as the ranter immediately came to mind. And with the ranter I thought it'd also be a great opportunity to re-envision what and who he's ranting about -- I wanted to make it a commentary on the new Austin vs. the old Austin -- gentrification and all. I love the idea of all these people having their own stories and headed somewhere yet interacting with each other on the street.

PJ Raval shooting Slacker 2011What do you think your challenges have been in re-visiting this scene?

Well, taking liberties to re-interpret and re-envision the scene came along with the challenges of shooting dialogue in Japanese (which I don't speak a word of) and placing the ranter on a bicycle and shooting in the middle of East 6th, causing a real traffic jam in the afternoon by shooting from a moving pedicab. It's all in the film, real angry drivers and all. At some point a car passed by and screamed "I hope you have a permit asshole!" which is one of the reasons why I wanted to make this segment -- amidst the high rises and SUVs is there still love for the indie artist in Austin? And no, I didn't have a permit, guerrilla-style shooting seemed the most appropriate!

Did you work on any of the other scenes by other filmmakers in addition to your own?

Unfortunately I did not. But I'm actually glad I didn't because it's really fun to see what everyone else came up with.

Could you share any connections or memories related to the original Slacker you might have?

I grew up in a small town in central California called Clovis and I remember going to the theater and randomly seeing Slacker with a bunch of friends. We thought it was the craziest thing ever. None of us were film buffs, so we were amazed how a film like this was playing at the local multiplex. At the time, it made me excited that to think someone was out there making different kinds of films. Being an outsider in a small town it was great to see a film that celebrated the individual, the "freak."

Can you tell us about any projects you're working on now/next?

I'm currently working on a new documentary about LGBT retirees and seniors. I'm fascinated with this community and how they are the first visible elderly gay community and have lived through incredible change in their lifetime. We argue about gay marriage rights but these folks are pre-Stonewall and pre-civil rights era. They survived the AIDS crisis in the 80's and many saw their communities completely die off. Some didn't even come out until they retired recently or when their wives passed away during retirement age so they are still struggling with their sexual identity even at the age of 80! Self discovery can occur at all ages, that and the fact that present day society holds no value to becoming a senior is a universal theme running through the film.

I also have an on going collaboration with Paul Soileau on some crazy, fun, queer, not-safe-for-work projects for a character he's created called CHRISTEENE. You can see our work on (but be warned! not safe for work!). This whole Slacker 2011 experience has also inspired me to move back towards the realm of narrative fiction so i have a few stories percolating.

Cinematography-wise, been shooting lots of feature projects like Habibi Rasak Kharban, a story of forbidden love and the first fiction feature set in Gaza in over 15 years directed by Susan Youssef and slated to premiere at the 2011 Venice Film Festival next month; as well as Primate Cinema: Apes as Family, the first film created for a chimpanzee audience directed by Rachel Mayeri. I've been keeping a full dance card ...

[Photo credit: Patrick Rusk; photos contributed by PJ Raval]